Families dismayed by the condition of Catholic cemeteries in San Antonio demand answers
SAN ANTONIO – In recent months, KSAT advocates have been inundated with complaints about conditions in cemeteries belonging to the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Many were appalled by the condition of the properties. Tall grasses and grass, tombstones buried underground and graves that have sunk several feet away – not at all what you would expect to see when visiting your loved ones.
So what is going on? How did the conditions get so bad? Journalist Tim Gerber has spent the past few weeks touring cemeteries and talking to family members, some of whom have taken it upon themselves to clean up the mess.
During a visit to the San Fernando II cemetery in early June, Juan Becerra was mowing the grass near several tombstones, although that is not his job.
“I don’t work for San Fernando. I just come to do my garden for my grandfather and my cousins here, my little cousins, ”Becerra said.
Becerra didn’t seem to mind mowing that day. He carried out his duties with loving precision. Becerra said he had a great deal of respect for the dead and just wanted his family’s eternal resting place to be peaceful. But lately he’s been spending more time tending to the graves. Heavy rainy days in May had left the cemetery full of weeds and tall grass.
“I don’t come very often. I come like when I see the grass is real, very tall, ”Becerra said. “The point is that (the cemetery workers) cannot catch up because of the rain. I understand that. That’s why I come and try to help them.
He is not alone. During six weeks of cemetery visits from early May to mid-June, the Defenders encountered several people doing their own lawn maintenance at the grave of a loved one.
Miguel Herrera said he started bringing his gardening tools after seeing the conditions on Mother’s Day.
“You couldn’t even see (the grave) so we cleaned it up a bit,” Herrera said. “So we just have to take it upon ourselves to clean up his mother’s and father’s site. “
Herrera was so disturbed by the vegetation that he began to mow, prune and blow the graves near his family members.
“I even started doing other people. But I said, you know, you could be here all day, ”Herrera said. “There is a lot of guilt in going through them like this. “
Herrera said he asked cemetery workers why they were having trouble keeping up with the landscaping and they told him they were understaffed.
“Apparently they don’t have the staff to better deal with the proliferation,” Herrera said. “So either you leave it like that or take it upon yourself to try and do something about it.”
Tito Reyes has said he has also started tending to the graves around his father and brother, but he doesn’t think it should be up to families to take care of the graves they have paid for.
“Where is all that money going that they make you pay for all this to bury someone?” Reyes asked. “It’s not cheap. It’s not, it’s not cheap at all.
Reyes said if the cemetery can’t cope with the upkeep, they should hire someone who can.
“It’s a Catholic cemetery. It shouldn’t be like that, ”Reyes said.
Others the Defenders have spoken to have even struggled to find the graves of their loved ones. If they are not hidden by tall grass and weeds, they are covered in dirt and debris.
Paul Shope needed the help of a member of the field team to find his family’s land which was obscured by thick grass. But he said it wasn’t the first time he had struggled to find the site.
“The last time I was here with my wife was about a year ago,” Shope recalls. “She got really upset because she felt like this was where her parents were and everything was covered in mud. Like you can’t even see it.
Several areas of San Fernando II showed ample evidence of flooding and, worse yet, deep tire tracks from heavy machinery that passed through several gravestones.
“It makes me really sad, you know, because all these people are paying money to have these tombstones put here. I know, because I just finished paying, ”Shope said. “They deserve better than this. “
Some areas of the San Fernando II and III cemeteries are so overgrown that they looked like they had been abandoned for years, but some of the issues defenders uncovered seemed to go far beyond a lack of maintenance. based.
In San Fernando III, there were fallen tree branches resting on gravestones, water taps that didn’t work, and sinkholes opening near gravestones. Several graves that had been dug over the past two years have shown signs of significant subsidence, with some graves sunk as much as three feet below the surface.
Again, some families were taking matters into their own hands and fixing the issues on their own by backfilling the soil and planting new grass on top. To be fair, the Defenders have noticed on other visits that some of the sunken graves have been filled in. And in San Fernando II, Daniel Zaragoza said he complained about a sinking grave next to his mother’s.
“There was a deep hole, at least three feet deep,” Zaragoza said. “I mean an accident could happen. But I mean, they actually filled it up after I complained.
The Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns and operates the cemeteries, did not respond to several direct questions about conditions at the two cemeteries, but in a series of emailed statements pledging to do better. Miguel Herrera was unsure of what to believe after seeing little to no improvement with each visit.
“I don’t really know what their answer is because I don’t really know if what they are telling us is correct or the truth,” Herrera said. “You know, they just say rubbish.”
In an emailed statement on June 8, Jordan McMorrough, director of communications for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said: in these sacred lands. Cemetery staff have worked diligently in conducting the burials as well as maintaining the cemetery sites that have been affected by the recent heavy and sustained rains. Problems are addressed in a planned manner as weather conditions continue to improve. “
In a follow-up email on June 22, McMorrough wrote: “I have updated information for you regarding Catholic cemeteries in the Archdiocese since our previous communication last Tuesday. I heard from the manager and the foreman regarding the maintenance schedules. The cemetery of San Fernando I has been cut down and cleaned up. The San Fernando II Cemetery is currently grass cutting on the older part of the property near Cupples Road. Once this is done, staff will return to the side of the property adjacent to General McMullen and resume cutting the grass in that area. There are sections of grass that need to be recut at the San Fernando III cemetery, and that will be done by the end of this week. Staff work hard to improve the appearance of the cemetery grounds, and mowing the grass at each of the sites is a priority.
The defenders will check if there are any improvements in the grounds of the two cemeteries.
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